Bear's Journal -- Entry #11: Autumn 2001
The Jesus Sutras
The highest skies are in love with You.
The great Earth opens its palms in peace.
Our truest being is anchored in Your Purity.
You are Allaha: Compassionate Father of the Three.
Everything praises You, sounding its true note.
All the Enlightened chant praises --
Every being takes its refuge in You
And the light of Your Holy Compassion frees us all.
. . . Free us of the karma of our lives,
Bring us back to our original nature
Delivered from all danger.
. . . Shower us with Your Healing Rain!
Help us to overcome, give life to what is withered,
And water the roots of kindness in us . . .
These lines are from a hymn of the Christian church in ancient China (circa 780 C.E.). Called The Da Qin Religion of Light Sutra of Praise to the Three Powers, this is one of several writings originally unearthed by explorers in 1907. These sutras provide a fascinating picture of an early Christian community which developed completely apart from the patriarchal structure of the church in the West. This ancient church, called by the Chinese "The Da Qin [Western] Religion of Light," communicated the teaching of Jesus in terms that were relevant to the culture in China at that time -- a culture influenced by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Shamanism. So instead of a human sacrifice sent to pay ransom as atonement for our sins, Jesus is presented as a beloved Bodhisattva or "Dharma King" who has come to free us from the cycle of karma. Instead of "original sin," these sutras talk about our "original nature" -- a state of goodness and grace to which we can be restored.
A new book, The Jesus Sutras by Martin Palmer, tells the story of this ancient church and provides new translations of the sutras. The familiar stories of Jesus' birth, teachings, healing ministry, death and resurrection can be found here, along with a few surprises which remind us of the power of sacred words. For example: In their story of Creation, humans are given "guardianship" of the earth -- not "dominion" over it, as in our Western translations. And because their translation of the Ten Commandments (called Ten Covenants by them) emphasized kindness to all living beings, these early Christians were vegetarians who believed in the equality of the sexes and (unlike the Buddhist monastics of the same era) did not own slaves. The Jesus Sutras serves as an example and an encouragement for those of us who believe in the Unity of Religious Ideals. The ancient church in China maintained their Christian beliefs while respecting and interacting with the other religions of their day. This spirit of dialogue (rather than competition) between religious traditions is still needed in today's world.